Mediators differ on which mediation style should be used in mediation. Facilitative, evaluative, transformative or a combination. Anthropologists differ on how to define culture. Some say that culture is like pornography: hard to describe, but “I know it when I see it.” I like best the definition of culture by Anthropologist Edward B. Taylor, who says that culture is that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, law, morals, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by a person as a member of society. What a mouthful. How are we, as mediators, to take all that “culture”, into account in every mediation? By identifying individualist and collectivist paradigms. Confused??? I sure was. I went to 4 years of undergraduate school at the University of Miami with a major in accounting and 3 years of Law School and nary a mention of individualist and collectivist paradigms. Had I missed that lecture when I skipped class to go to the beach?
I attended the Maryland Mediator’s Convention in December 2010. I chose one of the sessions called “Cross-Cultural Issues in Mediation”. The presenter was Professor Ilhyung Lee who teaches at University of Missouri. He specializes in the areas of cross-cultural dispute resolution. Within seconds a power point presentation began with Cultural Differences between Individualists and Collectivists Paradigms. I checked the room number, it was correct. I checked the program schedule, he seemed to be Professor Lee. Why was he speaking about paradigms and not culture? Was there a prerequisite to this session that I missed?
Paradigms come in many forms. Thomas Kuhn gave a contemporary meaning of a scientific paradigm as a set of practices that define a scientific discipline during a particular period of time. Kuhn defines a scientific paradigm as
- What is to be observed and scrutinized
- The kind of questions that are supposed to be asked
- and probed for answers in relation to the subject
- How these questions are to be structured
- How the results of scientific investigations should
- be interpreted
Very interesting. I can see how scientific paradigms can be useful in mediation.
- Who will be attending the mediation
- Where will the mediation be held
- What questions should asked to the clients and what areas of their life should be probed
- How to best structure your questions while remaining neutral
Was the mediation successful and successful by whose standard? Is it a success because they came to a signed agreement? Was it successful because the parties are now beginning to effectively communicate? Was it successful because the parties now understand each other’s goals?
There are paradigms found in literature, sciences, psychology, sociology, and business. In its simplest form, a paradigm is a typical example, type, patter, or model.
Back to Professor Lee. A mediator’s awareness of individualist and collectivist paradigms can aid the mediator in identifying and overcoming cultural barriers to settlement.
What is an Individualist? Individualists view themselves as independent and loosely connected to groups in which they are a part of. When in conflict, personal preference, personal needs, personal rights, and personal goals tend to be viewed as above group goals.
What is a Collectivist? Collectivists tend to view themselves as interdependent and closely connected to groups in which they are included. When in conflict, obligations, duties, respectfulness, and cooperation tend to be viewed above individual personal goals and they are more likely to conform to group norms.
What factors affect Individualist and Collectivist behavior? Socialization, age, wealth, demographics, context (business vs personal), education, genetics, and may other factors. A person may contain both Individualist and Collectivist traits, but most countries lean toward one approach versus the other. In a survey by Dutch Psychologist Geert Hofstede, he found that the countries that contain more Individualists are
- United States
- New Zealand
- South Africa
- Most Northern and Western Europe
Collectivists are found in most other countries. Mediation models in the United States are mostly geared toward an Individualist approach. Collectivists may be more comfortable with a more indirect approach. They may require more separate caucuses. Collectivists prefer to establish trust before proceeding with negotiations. Collectivists are more apt to take an issue “under consideration” until all issues have been discussed before reaching any agreement.
We all make assumptions as mediators. Individualist and Collectivist paradigms may assist mediators in making better assumptions which lead to more effective mediation which leads to more agreements based on mutual accord.